Preparing for a new period of autumn calving

Antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance are key concerns at the present time.

With good pre-calving management, I believe we can significantly reduce the need for antibiotics this winter in both the milking herd, particularly in the first 100 days of lactation, and in the rearing of their calves.

Before we start we need to analyse how we got on last winter on both these areas. Add up your veterinary bills for antibiotics used and vet visits from the previous winter period; including fallen stock collections. It might not make great reading or enhance your state of mind, but it’s a factor that a business must measure and address, especially in the present financial climate in dairying.

Assess body condition score of cows 120 days before calving and adjust feeding levels to ensure they dry off at a condition score of 2.75-3.0, ideally in the same condition you want them calving in. The length and the severity of negative energy balance a cow experiences in early lactation will affect the immune system and it’s ability to overcome disease challenges.

A pre-calving diet consisting of fibrous forage and 2-3 kilos of a good quality, specific pre-calving ration brought up to optimal total diet protein content, fed for a month before calving can greatly enhance both a first lactation heifer and cow’s ability to enter lactation with her head up eating for Ulster (dry matter intake is key!). A pre-calving ration mineralised with protected minerals such as United Feeds’ HerdCare which are more available to the cow, will help ensure cows calve with a well-fortified immune system, reducing the need for antibiotic treatment as she prepares to go back in calf successfully, ultimately doing our bit for anti-microbial resistance.

Feeding a pre-calver ration will also help prime the rumen microbes to efficiently digest the concentrate fed in early lactation, helping energy levels. Quality bypass protein included in the pre-calver ration will help boost protein reserves in the cow aiding colostrum production, which along with mineral reserves will enhance the calf’s energy, protein and mineral status following colostrum consumption.

A calf receiving at least 10% of its body weight in colostrum as soon after birth as possible should have a stronger immune system and respond better to vaccinations, reducing the need for antibiotics. The first few months of an animal’s life is arguably the most important. This is because gene expression can be influenced in the pre-weaning phase to enhance lifetime production, so follow an accelerated calf rearing programme to boost growth rates in order to maximise the calf’s full lifetime production potential.

Nutrition, health and environment all play a role. A break in calving allows you to wash, disinfect and rest both calving and calf rearing facilities. If you haven’t a break it might be worth organising one, otherwise place more emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting. Service and calibrate automatic calf feeders, and deep clean feeding equipment.

For further information on Pre-calver management or calf rearing contact your local United Feeds Adviser.